Field of Dems looks to knock off Wisconsin’s Mr. Invincible

Four years ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) launched an early wave of attack ads against Democrat Mary Burke, essentially burying her campaign, and securing his own re-election, even before the summer got underway.
This year, as Walker seeks a third term, he has not used his campaign treasury on a similar barrage of advertising aimed at defining the race — because he’s not sure which of the eight Democrats vying to face him in November will emerge from Tuesday’s primary.
{mosads} Perhaps no gubernatorial contest in the country has embodied the benefits — and potential drawbacks — of Democratic enthusiasm ahead of this year’s midterm election. 
Wins in several special elections, for state legislative seats and a state Supreme Court seat, have made Democrats believe this is the year they can finally knock off the once-invincible Walker. Public polling that shows Walker struggling against one of the Democratic candidates backs up that sentiment. 
Democrats are so excited by the prospect of beating Walker that a bevy of candidates jumped into the race right away.
But none of them are stars — the Democratic bench has been so decimated in Wisconsin in recent years that the party has few standouts left who might have been able to scare away potential rivals. Those who did enter the race are little known outside their own distinct bases, and few have raised the financial resources necessary to run robust paid media campaigns.
“The large field split Democratic money among a lot of candidates,” said Charles Franklin, a political scientist who conducts polling for Marquette Law School.
Franklin’s latest survey tells the story of such a fractured field.
The only candidate with any kind of statewide base, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers (D), leads with 31 percent. None of the other candidates — including firefighter’s union chief Mahlon Mitchell (D), who has heavy labor backing, and former state Rep. Kelda Roys (D), who has support from EMILY’s List — have cracked double digits.
Even Evers isn’t that well-known. The Marquette poll showed 60 percent of registered voters, including 54 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, do not have an opinion of a candidate who has been elected to statewide office three times.
The Democratic candidates largely agree on the platform one of them will use to run against Walker in the fall: Most oppose tax breaks for Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer setting up a new factory outside Milwaukee. They favor new spending on education and on roads, weak spots in Walker’s record that Democrats hope to highlight.
But only four of the eight Democrats have been able to afford television spots. 
In recent weeks, the contest has grown increasingly bitter. One candidate, former state Democratic Party chairman Matt Flynn, has questioned whether Evers, Roys or Mitchell have the temperament to take on Walker.
Flynn has attempted to bat away criticisms of his work as a lawyer for the Catholic archdiocese of Milwaukee during the church’s sex scandals.
Mitchell has faced questions about a payment made to a former union staffer who settled a lawsuit over undisclosed allegations. 
Walker had nearly $6 million in the bank at the end of June, the last campaign finance report made publicly available. Whoever emerges from Tuesday’s primary is likely to be nearly broke. 
Democrats are planning a bulwark against the inevitable Walker onslaught: State Democrats have hired Tom Russell, Sen. Russ Feingold’s (D-Wis.) former campaign manager, as a consultant to help get donors off the sidelines quickly. And the Democratic Governors Association has booked $4 million in television airtime already.
“Democrats may never be able to compete with Republican special interest Koch brother money, which Scott Walker has up the wazoo,” said T.J. Helmstetter, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. “We will absolutely be able to run a well-funded campaign throughout the general election period.”
Walker’s team contends they will have to deal with an onslaught of cash from outside groups aimed at paying him back for a stinging set of measures targeting public employee unions back in 2011.
Tens of millions of dollars in big government special interest money is lining up to distort his record of reform, but the governor will continue to offer a conservative model for others by running on his accomplishments and vision to keep Wisconsin working for generations to come,” said Brian Reisinger, a senior Walker advisor.
Public polls hint at the importance of Walker’s ability to knock down his eventual opponent quickly: He trails in recent surveys conducted by Emerson College and Marist College, the latter conducted for NBC News. He led Evers by just four points, 48 percent to 44 percent, in a June Marquette survey.
Walker’s job ratings are remarkably steady for an incumbent who has been such a political flashpoint over the years. His approval rating has tended to stay between 47-49 percent, while those who disapprove are a point or two shy of that.
Franklin, the Marquette pollster, says that stability masks the intense partisan feelings Walker has engendered.
“It’s a bit not unlike Donald Trump, in the sense that Democrats are very substantially disapproving and haven’t shown much movement, and Republicans are very substantially approving” of Walker’s job performance, he said. “This has never been a governor who could expect the 55 let alone 60 percent approval. But he’s also the governor who’s generally had disapproval in the low 40s.”
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